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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Taylor, Henry Joseph Stirling (1874–1948)

by H. J. W. Stokes

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Henry Joseph Stirling Taylor (1874-1948), farmer, businessman and public servant, was born on 22 October 1874 in North Melbourne, eleventh child of Scottish migrants Alexander Taylor, labourer, and his wife Jane, née Scoles. Educated in Victoria, he joined the Western Australian postal service in the 1890s and in 1900 was postmaster at Port Hedland. He operated pearling luggers out of Broome from about 1901 and in 1910 bought a wheat farm at Kellerberrin. Finding that drought, taxes, rail freights and protective tariffs made wheat-growing unprofitable, he became convinced of the need for marketing co-operatives. In February 1915 Stirling Taylor was appointed managing secretary of Westralian Farmers Ltd, Perth, established in 1914 by the Farmers and Settlers' Association as a marketing and farm supply co-operative. Taylor built up the company rapidly and he also encouraged the establishment of some seventy local co-operatives.

In March 1919 Taylor became director of the recently established Commonwealth Bureau of Commerce and Industry. His objective was to modernize and diversify Australian primary and secondary industry. Enthusiastically gathering and disseminating information and advice, he gave particular attention to encouraging exports and pressed for the establishment of an Australian trade commissioner service; he also played a significant role in stimulating the rapid development of the Australian woollen manufacturing industry in the early 1920s. From 1923 he undertook Prime Minister Bruce's 'national stocktaking' of Australian resources.

On 10 November 1922 Taylor was appointed part-time secretary and executive member of the British Empire Exhibition Commission—housed with the bureau in Melbourne—to organize meetings, correspondence and research. Public controversy over the selection of a Federal executive officer affected Taylor's position when he opposed the appointment of Victor Ryan on administrative grounds. Taylor believed that the affair had damaged his relationship with the commission chairman, Senator (Sir) Reginald Wilson. Ryan was appointed in May 1923; in June Taylor resigned, citing the need for a full-time secretary. In that month he was appointed to the reconstituted bureau which became the Commercial and Industrial Bureau of the Commonwealth Board of Trade. Although the bureau had supporters in industry and parliament, it was seen as too small and visionary; in 1925 it was absorbed into Wilson's new Department of Markets and Migration. While conceding that Taylor himself was 'affable' and 'picturesque', the Bulletin gave the bureau a vituperative obituary as 'One of Hughes's many contributions to the towering pyramid of over-government'. The Countryman, however, defended the bureau's 'inspiring and helpful influence', a monument to Taylor's enterprise and ability. Taylor's appointment was terminated on 31 May 1925.

In 1928 he became manager in Adelaide of the newly established South Australian wheat pool co-operative. From 1933 he farmed and developed vineyards at Happy Valley. Retiring to North Adelaide about 1947, Taylor died of heart disease at his home on 9 July 1948 and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. On 16 June 1915 at St George's Anglican Church, Boyanup, Western Australia, he had married Caroline Evelyn Duce, who, with their son and daughter, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Sandford, Walter Harper and the Farmers (Perth, 1955)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Western Australia), 1917-18, 2, p 564
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 11, 12 June 1925, pp 68, 135
  • Punch (Melbourne), 13 Mar 1919
  • Bureau of Commerce and Industry (Commonwealth), Annual Report, 1919-22
  • Countryman (Melbourne), 6 Mar 1925
  • Bulletin, 12 Mar 1925
  • CRS A458, H154/17, pt 1, and CP211/2, bundle 11, pt 1, CP374/1, bundle 1, covers 1-7 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. J. W. Stokes, 'Taylor, Henry Joseph Stirling (1874–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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